asexual · asexuality · black girl blogs

Asexuality and Fandom: When No One “Wants” An Ace Character

It’s been two months since my last article, life has gotten away from me and I’ve been working on this piece for far longer than I would have liked. But it’s here now and it’s finished. My last article gained a bit of traction, made a few people mad and I got a lot of messages from people trying to explain to me why I was wrong. None of that changed my opinion about whether or not Black and Brown Aces have a place in the Ace Discourse. We don’t, we probably never will. And that’s that.

Today’s article has been on my mind for years. I used to spend a lot of time on the internet engaging in different fandoms and trading headcanons with creative people like myself. I would spend hours writing fanfiction, crafting short stories and reblogging fan art that appealed to my ideas. It’s how, in the land of Tumblr, one makes friends. It’s also a sure fire way to make enemies. The biggest part of being in a fandom is shipping. It’s almost a requirement that if you’re in a fandom, you must have a ship. Which two characters would you pay money to watch have sex? Which two characters do you think are absolutely dying to be in bed together even if they’ve never looked at each other? And if you don’t have a ship then there’s no space for you in the fandom, you have to want two characters to be together. You have to.

Shipping is the reason fandoms ultimately become toxic. The first thing a person does when you happen to not like their ship? Insult you, whether by your intelligence, your creativity or just you in general. You don’t like my ship? An automatic fuck you. If you aren’t opposed to my ship but have your own? You must admit that my ship is the superior ship and then maybe we can be mutuals. Not friends, but I won’t shade or drag you publicly. These are unspoken but fiercely followed rules in the world of fandom. They are the blueprint, anything outside of them is rarely if ever well received. So when you’re asexual and looking for a fictional character to headcanon as Ace, you had better be ready for war.

Because I didn’t always identify as Ace, the idea of coding a fictional character as Asexual only came to me after I stumbled across paragraphs from Ace Tumblr users. I spent a lot of time reading and coming to the realization that no characters were thought of as Asexual. Not even BBC’s Sherlock, who clearly had no interest in anyone but was furiously shipped with John, could be thought of as Asexual. Fans took personal offense and spammed anyone who suggested it. As if the most degrading thing Sherlock Holmes could be, was Ace. BBC’s Sherlock is not my lane, it never appealed to me the way other variations of Holmes have. But I paid attention to the way the idea of thinking a character to be Asexual was shunned.

As someone who didn’t acknowledge their Asexuality until after my trauma, it didn’t really cross my mind just how low the representation for Ace people is. Even in the world of fandom, perhaps especially in this one. When it comes to fictional characters, fans often get obsessive and territorial. If they love a character enough, some begin to think that what their interpretation of the character is better than what the creator has made. Fans on the internet have gotten to a point where the headcanons in their minds hold more value than the actual content. Which is fine, until they start to project these feelings on to others.

When Steve Rogers met Sam Wilson in Captain America: The Winter Soldier the internet rightfully exploded. At least, Tumblr did. There was finally another person to ship Steve with. A new ship means more fanfics, more fan art and more think pieces on why this ship is meant to be. Only this time, the introduction of Sam not only brought more shippers but it also brought a lot of thinly veiled racists and exclusionist that wore the mask of an inclusionist. If you’ve read my pieces before you know I don’t like to use those words (inclusionist/exclusionist) but I’m not sure how else to describe them. When the fanfiction for Sam Wilson rolled out, I couldn’t help but notice something. All of a sudden Sam Wilson was Asexual. Almost overnight the idea of Sam being a romantic love interest for Steve (or Bucky) had been jumped over and people were declaring him Ace. Which at first was great. Until after reading fanfic upon fanfic I realized that the only reason people were making him Ace was so that he didn’t get to sleep with Steve. Bucky is almost never made Ace in any of his fanfics, same goes for Steve, same goes for Tony or Bruce or Thor. However, with Sam, you’re more likely to find fanfic about him being a weird Ace third wheel to Bucky and Steve than you are to find him in an actual relationship with either of them. Coding Sam to be Asexual was more about racist fans finding a way to keep him from touching their Golden Boy than it was about actually bringing Asexuals into fan fiction. But if you called them on it then you weren’t really Asexual and didn’t want Ace characters in the first place. It’s the same argument fans use when they “just can’t see the chemistry” between a Black woman and a white man. Same format different lettering.

Of course over time, and several callout posts the fanfics got better and Sam was starting to be truly shipped. However now that he’s mainly shipped with Bucky and it’s a sexual ship, he isn’t headcanoned as a Gay Ace. He’s just Gay now. The Asexual part has disappeared. Save for those who still don’t really want him around and need him out of the way.

As someone who used to be deeply involved with fandoms and is now working to be deeply involved in the representation of Asexuals; I’ve noticed that while one may not be ostracized anymore for wanting Ace characters, you’re more likely to be told to be grateful that any characters were thought to be Ace at all. In fandom, it’s the throwaway characters, the unpopular ones, the ones deemed ugly or the ones that have the most Anti-fans that are coded to be thought of as Asexual. Because people think of Asexuals as choosing to not want sex, when that isn’t the case at all. It’s easier for hardcore fans to assign a character they don’t like to something they don’t understand rather than step out of their comfort zones and look through a different perspective.

It’s a double edged sword really. If you want the community of fandom you have to be willing to put up with a lot, you have to be willing to pick your battles wisely. It’s easier to go along with what the masses are saying than stand your ground on a detail that means a lot to you. Like the case of Jessica Rabbit. For some reason, she has become representative of Asexuality, on the internet at least. I’m pretty sure it’s because she is so overly sexualized and Aces would like to make a statement. I don’t code her as Ace so while I don’t understand, it’s not something I oppose of. However, I have seen fans on Tumblr being driven to tears on both sides. Those who want so badly for her to Asexual against those that cannot fathom the idea of a “sexy woman” not being interested in sex. I can still get on Tumblr today and watch in real time as people argue about it, about her. It’s weird. And frankly, it doesn’t really do much in terms of representation, because canon wise she most definitely is not Ace. But also, she’s married to a rabbit and as far as I know, only ever had the relationship with him. She’s not the best representation we could ask for.

Another side to the ever-growing argument is that coding a sexual character as asexual is infantizing or desexualizing them. This perspective often comes from characters that are heavily thought of as representatives of a certain orientation, such as a lesbian icon or a gay icon. There is a point to make in the fact that Asexuality is a spectrum, there are Gay Asexuals and Lesbian Asexuals. Asexuality isn’t limited to the simple definition of a person who doesn’t want to have sex. It’s as inaccurate as it is a blanket statement. There are Aces who enjoy sex, there can be asexual fictional characters who enjoy sex as well. Furthermore, even if the character doesn’t enjoy sex that doesn’t make them infantized. This concept loops back to the toxic idea that many of us have been taught since we were born. That sex is to be looked as an achievement and if you don’t engage in it then you must not be mature enough to understand it.

So the question remains, how can Aces deal with fandoms that have no Ace headcanons or only code their throwaway characters as Asexual? For now, the best thing is to create ourselves. To find each other in the fandoms and stick together when it comes to Ace representation. That’s easier said than done however, I’ve seen small groups here and there that pick a character and defend them possibly being Ace to the end. But fandom is supposed to be fun, it’s supposed to bring joy and entertainment like the original content it comes from. It’s draining to spend most of your fandom time arguing, defending and protecting a character that doesn’t even exist in real life.

It does make me interested to see how fandoms will deal when we get a successful movie, tv show or some kind of franchise that has canon Ace characters. Will their Aceness be erased and replaced with different sexualities? Will the content of the characters be ignored completely and declared not worth a fandom at all?

I guess only time will tell.